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Letter to the Editor for July 3, 2020

Diversity can fight racism

At the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) training last fall, Pastor Edward Palmer said it didn’t matter if I was a racist. Huh? 

Actually, I am a racist. By that I mean that I identify with people with whom I have something in common.That’s a natural inclination that scientists call tribalism. 

Tribalism can be beneficial, in that we look out for our own. But it can be harmful if we aren’t aware of it.  As a UK fan, I’m a member of the UK “tribe,” but I have to remember that Louisville “tribe” members aren’t bad people. They just wear a different color jersey.  

The tragic death of George Floyd had a greater impact on blacks because they identify with him. He’s one of their own. That impact is magnified by other similar instances that they have seen in the news or experienced themselves. 

If I was a young black man, that knee may as well have been on my neck. I may have had difficulty restraining myself from acting on that anger. If that knee was a Taliban knee on the neck of a U.S. soldier, I think we’d be taking out a village, damn the consequences.

Back to racism. Pastor Palmer is encouraging us to be aware of systemic or institutional racism. Most white folks don’t think it exists. If they only knew the history! 

Our institutions were created and run by whites for the benefit of whites and so many times to the exclusion of blacks. Our history books don’t tell that story. Whites don’t understand the cumulative effect of that racism. They don’t realize that institutional racism is why black families have been unable to accumulate wealth and experience all the societal benefits that go along with that.

This pattern began after slavery. There was no restitution or compensation for years of slavery. The plan for 40 acres and a mule was nixed by Andrew Johnson, while at the same time, whites were given free land that was being taken from Indians. 

More recently, after World War II, black soldiers returning from war were denied the benefits offered to whites. Even today, there are disparities in our legal, financial, health and educational institutions that exist because of the history.

So what do we do about it now?  Right here, right now, in Winchester? 

First, examine your own heart and mind. Acknowledge your “tribalism,” but decide that members of other “tribes” have the same value. Appreciate the riches that diversity has brought to our culture. Be aware of and open to the messages of the national “Black Lives Matter” movement. 

While you practice social distancing, think about ways to interact with people outside of your “tribe.” Plan what you can do when the pandemic is over. If you’re in a white church, take a few minutes to read Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Read Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” or one of many other books on racism at the local library.

Mark McCammish